Regretfully, the late Rocky Lockridge has, in more recent years, become as well-known for his appearance on the television show “Intervention,” and the visceral cry of pain that launched countless internet memes, as he ever was for his achievements within the roped square. Which of course pleases not at all any serious fan of the noble art. Because Lockridge deserves better, much better. He was a world champion and dedicated battler who gave sports fans many weekend afternoons of fistic excitement, competing as he did on national television in memorable scraps with Eusebio Pedroza, Roger Mayweather, Cornelius Boza-Edwards, Juan Laporte and Tony Lopez.
But as tragic as his post-career descent into hell and the dissolution of his ring earnings may be, almost as tragic is what took place on this date back in 1985 when Lockridge was still in his prime, still a champion, and still seemingly on his way to fulfilling his boxing destiny. It was then that he journeyed to Puerto Rico to face a legend in his hometown, and he should have departed San Juan with both his world championship and an enhanced reputation as one of the best active boxers on the planet, a fighter on the cusp of stardom. Instead he returned to America the victim of an injustice, while Wilfredo Gomez, to the delight of his compatriots, held aloft his third world title belt.
The match was broadcast to millions of Americans on NBC television and the judges’ decision for Gomez sparked widespread outrage. Little more than 24 hours later, another ring veteran, Larry Holmes, appeared to also be the beneficiary of suspect judging as he too escaped with a controversial decision win over Carl “The Truth” Williams. That match was also aired on NBC and instead of the network’s back-to-back championship broadcasts being a cause for celebration, it became instead a cause for outrage, with two exciting, highly competitive matches overshadowed by their controversial outcomes.
In fact, “highly competitive” is overstating things when it comes to Gomez vs Lockridge. Pretty much no one outside of Puerto Rico could, with a straight face, make a case for Wilfredo being a deserving winner. The American was dominating the match to such a degree with his aggressiveness and harder punches that during the middle rounds it appeared a stoppage was imminent. Rocky was simply too strong for Gomez, who was coming off an upset knockout loss to Azumah Nelson five months earlier. The ex-champion struggled to stay in the fight as Lockridge stayed in his face and unleashed a torrent of leather, round after round.
In the tenth Lockridge pounded Gomez mercilessly from one side of the ring to the other, staggering him repeatedly, but the proud former champion refused to fold. To Wilfredo’s credit he not only survived but staged a surprising rally, fighting with desperation in the late rounds to narrow somewhat the champion’s points lead. But the final round, and seemingly the fight, belonged to the younger and more vigorous Lockridge, his constant aggression appearing to be more than enough to carry the day. NBC commentator Ferdie Pacheco scored the contest for Lockridge by a margin of six points and he was hardly alone in his conviction that the American had won with room to spare.
But the judges saw it differently. While one official scored the bout a draw, the other two gave the win to Gomez by razor-thin margins. As the partisan crowd erupted in joy and “Bazooka” celebrated becoming a triple-crown champion, everyone else, while not necessarily shocked to see a popular Puerto Rican champion win a decision in San Juan, could only shake their heads at an obviously unjust verdict.
Afterwards a grateful Gomez declared that he owed this win “to Pepe Cordero,” a fellow Puerto Rican and power broker within the WBA. Truer words were never spoken; it was Cordero who had assigned the judges for the match.
This would prove to be the fading Gomez’s last hurrah. A year later the title given to him by two less-than-objective judges was snatched away by unheralded Alfredo Layne of Panama, a fringe contender with a record of 13-5. Once a dominant champion and prolific knockout artist, the pride of Puerto Rico was clearly done, Father Time and Wilfredo’s punishing battles with Nelson, Lupe Pintor and Salvador Sanchez finally catching up to him. He would win two inconsequential matches before finally retiring for good.
Meanwhile, Lockridge fought on, losing to Julio Cesar Chavez the following year; there were those who thought Rocky deserved better from the judges in that match too. Undeterred, he annexed the IBF super featherweight title and notched victories over Johnny De La Rosa and Harold Knight, but back-to-back defeats to Tony Lopez marked the end of his run as a championship calibre pugilist.
Then came the years of decline, the fall into drug and alcohol addiction, and new-found fame as the butt of cruel internet jokes, fodder for laughs for those callous enough to find hilarity in the ruin and suffering of others. Better to not dwell on that part of the story. Better to remember Rocky Lockridge when he was something special, an accomplished pugilist, a champion. And one of the very few to defeat the great Wilfredo Gomez, judges be damned. — Michael Carbert